Warning: Be very careful what you read about Israel
For those of us who live in Israel, and know what’s going on, it can be very disturbing to receive clips, emails and text messages from those who live outside the land, asking if what they received is really true. And if they’re asking, it’s because something doesn’t sound right to them.
Just in the last few days, I have been inundated with many of these inquiries and puzzling questions, but what’s really sad is that many of these messages, which they received, originated from those who live here as well. One such message was that “the liberal left sees that anarchy pays off.” Another one was that all those hundreds of thousands protesting on the streets of Israel, are left-wingers. But if that’s true, how is it that a very right-wing government won the last election?
Those who have an agenda find it so easy to paint everyone with a broad brush, in order to dismiss the growing opposition, but here’s the truth. The protestors are everyday Israelis of every stripe, color, background and belief. They are liberals and centrists, religious and non-religious. How do we know that? Because we watch the news, and every reporter broadcasts on-the-spot, live interviews, asking the people who they are. They are parents, soldiers, students, grandparents, newcomers, native-born Sabras – a varied patchwork of the 9.5 million who make up the population of Israel.
It's also important to remember that if you’re listening to news outside of Israel, you’re not getting a comprehensive and detailed account of why hundreds of thousands of Israelis are flooding the streets each night and, now, each day. It doesn’t explain why our airport is shut down or why malls are closing. It doesn’t articulate why people are in an uproar over what one U.S. friend of mine described as, “only judicial reforms.” It’s so much more than that!
Israel is a complex landscape. It is a land where very religious, totally secular and everything in-between has co-existed for nearly 75 years. For example, you can see an ultra-orthodox man, dressed completely in black, wearing a big hat while, while walking on a Tel Aviv street. At the same time, you could spot a girl in a tank top and short shorts. And, up until now, that’s how we lived. Each respected the other’s right to make their own choices, choose the lifestyle they wanted and somehow manage to turn a blind eye to those who were different from them, in order to live peaceably with one another.
At least that’s how it was until this new government came into power, with the express intention of changing that peaceful co-existence. For them, they erroneously believed that the people had spoken, giving them a clear mandate to make sweeping changes, not just in the judicial sector, but also in the character of the country, making sure that the “Jewish” nature of Israel would be pronounced in a very noticeable way. And while no one refutes the fact that Israel is the Jewish homeland, how that expression plays out in our society, both as it relates to lifestyle and perspective, is broadly interpreted.
It is what has made Israel a success, despite so many glaring differences. And it is what has earned Israel the title: The most tolerant country in the entire Middle East.
While Israel is, overall, a traditionally leaning society, it didn’t take long for its citizens to begin to realize that all of that, plus much more, was at risk. The protests began, in part, because while the majority may indeed have voted for traditional values, they didn’t vote for sweeping, dramatic societal changes.
Everything was very incremental. The demonstrations started small but have since grown to the point where it has become an unstoppable force, and, although some may report that the protestors, themselves, don’t even know why they’re out there, that is just not true.
Friday night family dinners are completely occupied with the subject of what’s happening to our small country. Most everyone expresses their fears and concerns of how rapidly things are changing. New bills are constantly being pushed in the present Knesset – bills which will radically alter how we live and what we can even say.
Just recently, such a bill was introduced, which would have made it a jailable offense to share one’s Christian faith with a Jew. Thankfully, it was defeated, but the possibility of such a piece of legislation being passed, basically had the potential of imprisoning a tour guide who was talking about a Christian site, if someone wanted to be technical and push it to such an absurdity. In fact, it was only through the intervention of the outside Christian community, who heard about this ghastly bill, that legislators, including the prime minister, finally understood what devastating consequences it could have – especially in singling out Christians, who make up an enormous number of tourists who visit the country often.
Sadly, if you live outside of Israel, it is not clear that these radical changes are being advanced by a coalition which has thrown in its lot with Netanyahu’s Likud party, a political group which was never looked upon as extreme or fringe, but rather one which enjoyed the support of the largest percentage of Israelis. The present coalition has changed all of that.
It is one thing to join forces with smaller and less popular groups, but once they hijack the political landscape, in an attempt to dominate and control how the population lives and speaks, then the larger party must decide if they truly want that alignment.
We are waiting to see if they do, because much will depend upon how the Likud internalizes what’s happening on Israeli streets. If they don’t comprehend the depth of anger, frustration and fear of losing the kind of freedom and co-existence we have enjoyed up until now, then they will continue to underestimate the harsh reaction Israelis have expressed and will not stop expressing.
So the next time you read something about Israel, which sounds unreasonable, it might be good to check it out with an average, everyday Israeli who has no particular agenda but simply wants to have the freedom to enjoy life as they believe it should be lived.
For them, it’s a deal breaker to live any other way. Israelis will not go down without a fight and, make no mistake, they will be able to tell you, in detail, what that fight is about!
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.